Here in The Middle

I’m watching the dark earth wake up from its deep slumber all around me; the birds are fluttering and chirping in the bushes out front; and some preacher is talking about doing good deeds that can change the world during Lent; and it is as if the whole world is running headlong towards Easter morning. I know for many it is just another holiday, but underneath don’t we all have that wildly-winging hope for meaningful change? When the miracle unfolds right before our eyes of ice-cold days giving in to the warmth of the sun, of dead dry earth sprouting up new growth, it feels like anything could happen, and who knows what dry barren places left for dead might be renewed, called back to life. Here in the middle, between death and life, between where we’ve been and where we want to be, we wait and we count the days…all forty…through the six Sundays of Lent. And it’s like I can hear the Musician-King singing triumphantly, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

Peter may have known more about the sea and its fish than he did about growing things in the damp earth, but he was used to waiting, had watched the darkness fade into dawn a hundred times over the Galilee; watched the sun catch the ripples of the water, and the shadows slide over the hills beyond; seen the cold of Winter melt into Spring every year of his life. He knew as well as any of us how it feels to be buried under the weight of guilt, carry your grief around and long for the light to come. And Peter may not have known much about philosophy and science, but he was dead-certain about one thing, that the cave-tomb where they left Jesus’ body was busted open that Sunday, and the light of day streamed in like glory on those neatly discarded clothes. Peter knew without a doubt that death can be the prelude to life, as surely as the seasons change every year, because the man he used to be was gone, and the Risen Christ who had walked out of that grave had resurrected him to new life too. He wrote to the scattered Christians to reassure them of what he had seen, remind them of what they were waiting for: “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)

Someone reminded me lately that in the space between the present circumstances and the future unknown, we are not alone, and if ever we thought we might get left in a really tough place, all we have to do is look up, to see the face of God who lives in the right-now of every moment. We may feel stuck, slowly counting through the days, but Jesus’ cross stands in the middle of everything, the unequivocal evidence that He is making all things new– the immovable promise that He is good, that He is standing beside us in the fire, as close as breath. Here in the middle of March, as Winter fades and turns toward Easter, we can see with our own eyes how Death is overcome by His Life, and the Darkness bowing down, all around. The Church-Planter Paul says it most eloquently: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

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O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me…You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit….You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever.”


Psalm 30: 2-3, 11-12

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My God is strong enough to raise me from the grave
Your love is great enough to take away my shame
Your mercy reigns
My God is making new the wreckage of my heart
Your hand is reaching down to pull me from the dark
Your mercy reigns

Mercy Reigns, Elevation Worship

Doing Life Together

You would think that the easiest place to walk as a child of light is with other light-dwellers. In a place where minds are encouraged by Christ’s love, and spirits are alive by the same Spirit of God, and hearts are tender and compassionate because of His work within…yes, in this situation the Church-planter Paul affirms that our joyful response should be “…agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2) From his perspective, the Family of God should be an everyday illustration of God’s love and grace reaching out to the people of the world– a living temple for God’s presence. It sounds like the ideal family, doesn’t it?

And yet Paul takes the time to instruct the early church at length and in detail about how to make that happen, over the course of many different letters. As you read there is a definite sense that although relationships within the Family of God are vitally important, they are also a lot of work, even downright messy at times. Here in his own letter we find Peter echoing the same thoughts, and this time it is in the middle of all his examples of living an excellent life. Whether we are talking about governments, marriage, or the Family of God, our behavior should be above reproach so that we will bring glory to the One who called us into His kingdom. Practically speaking, we will be shining God’s light into the darkness the way Jesus did when He walked here Himself. Both Paul and Peter aren’t afraid to detail the everyday nuts and bolts of how to walk as children of the light, and confront us with our behavior. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult” Peter says, and it’s a little shocking that he needs to say that to believers about how to treat each other, but I am glad he does. I appreciate his honesty about the fact that any relationship can be difficult at times, and our learning to follow Jesus’ example is a long slow process.

In Peter’s day, Christ-followers did not seek out flocks of similar feather. Whatever their personal backgrounds and preferences, their numbers were small enough and the need was great enough that any group threw together the merchant and the slave, the educated and the illiterate, of every race and both genders. Forming a new spiritual community required setting aside deep-seated prejudices and cultural values to embrace the equality they had in Christ. It is ironic that in our modern day when so many of those cultural divisions have been overcome, and we have the freedom to worship wherever we want, we tend to choose the spiritual community that is the most like us and feels comfortable, just because we can. Maybe it’s laziness on our part– an attempt to avoid the hard work of loving others and pursuing peace– or maybe just taking advantage of the options. Most likely we’ve never even thought about it, but I wonder if we are often stunting our growth to maturity in the process. Peter has no interest in our comfort or our options: he holds up high standards of relationship as something we should all be working toward if we want to “love life and see good days.” (1 Peter 3:10)

In his letter, Peter describes a community of genuine friendship, brotherly love for one another. The kind of friends who truly care, who enter into one another’s lives to share both rejoicing and pain. Christ-followers who are courageous enough to confront sin, to bear with one another’s growing pains and offer forgiveness. People of compassion and humility– not looking out for their own interests, but looking to serve others. An adopted family of peacemakers, focusing on the eternal bond we share in Christ instead of on the earthly differences that can pull us apart. As Paul puts it, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15) After all, in God’s eyes every one of us is a sinner saved by His own gracious consent and called to be a holy people, regardless of where we have come from, or who we were before. If we stop to think about it, the earthly distinctions that we pride ourselves on are as temporary as this world– who we are becoming on the inside is what we get to take into eternity. So Peter fully expects the early believers to voluntarily hold up the same values, not because the group is culturally homogeneous, but because they have all turned away from the world’s perspectives and are devoted to the same cause of building the kingdom of light.

If I am serious about being a Christ-follower, I must also take the rest of the Family seriously, and work hard to have healthy relationships here. Because people are watching us, and the most valuable way to build bridges is to live an excellent life. Because we need each other in order to run our race well and persevere. Because Jesus emptied Himself of privilege and power to come down and live as a servant, even to the point of dying in our place. Because God calls us to follow in His Son’s footsteps, and He says it is all glory.

And again there is this theme of beautiful light running throughout Peter’s letter, and us living as strangers in this world, shining in the darkness to draw others to God.

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Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, n make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…Philippians 2:1-5

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We draw people to Christ…by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
Madeleine L’Engle

The Secret to Living Well

I admitted to a friend this week that the older I get, the more I realize the sheer value of not giving up. As life skills go, it isn’t anything we would point out as admirable, and when you are younger you hardly even realize its necessity, so the very fact of noticing probably speaks of your age. The thing is, in the energy and ambition of youth no one warns you how many ordinary days there are in a life, and how even the best-laid plans often leave you somewhere you didn’t expect to be. Perseverance may not be flashy and exciting, but that determination to keep going and keep trying may make the difference between finishing well or getting lost in the woods along the way. The longer you travel through life, the more you realize how easy it is to get sidetracked and how it can happen to anyone. Church-planter Paul puts it in terms of a race, and like an athlete he presses on toward the finish line to get the reward, leaving the past in the dust. Inspiring as that is, many days the words of the prophet Isaiah resonate more with me, as a woman who needs daily strength and wisdom. He promises that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) Some days I am quite content to walk and not faint. And whether we are soaring or staggering, it is faith in something beyond this life that keeps us pressing forward, and it is a lesson every child of the light needs to learn.

An oil painting hangs in my living room, in a heavy gold frame.  The foreground is dark forest, with tall trees obscuring the sky, but there is a path winding away into distant light that streams through the branches. A friend who dabbled in oil painting showed up in my kitchen with it, years ago– said she called it Walk Toward The Light. The painting has hung on my wall ever since, a visual representation of Hope. It is one of my favorite possessions. I can see how that particular theme of perseverance and following the light has become part of me and shaped my perspectives, has become a sort of anchor for the heart: Don’t focus on the dark trees of despair, but on the light of His love….You don’t need to understand these circumstances, just walk in the light of His guidance, one step at a time…. In the midst of pain hold onto the strength of the One who is Mighty to save….Wait for the Lord, wait for Him to act, and put your hope in Him, because He is faithful….When other voices confuse and batter at your heart, look for God’s Truth shining clear. Keep walking toward the Light and don’t give up.

Time and experience as a Christ-follower give you the vantage point to realize that the everyday steps you take today will influence the path you travel tomorrow, and those ordinary choices are adding up into a lifetime. Peter says that as we choose each day to live as children of light we are growing in our knowledge of the One who called us out of darkness. And He promises that all those small everyday efforts to obey Him are together producing a life that will prove meaningful and rich. Peter puts it like this to the early believers: “The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)

So every time we meet pain or difficulty or disappointment it is a crossroads of decision, an opportunity to choose faith, to choose obedience. Every situation contains a question from God: Can you trust Me with this? Do you truly believe that I am Goodness itself and have your best interests in mind? Will you surrender your will and obey Me in this? In order to keep walking in the light you have to stand on the solid truth of God’s calling and His “great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4). Peter says these are meant to be our resources for living; in fact, we should “make every effort to respond to God’s promises” (2 Peter 1:5). Then he expands on what that will look like: Choose to do the right thing. Choose to pursue more of Christ. Choose to rein in your emotions and all the desires of Self that fight for dominance. Choose to forgive, to make peace, to love even the most difficult people. And keep on doing it day after day in all the twists and turns of the path you are on.

Perseverance is what proves to the watching world that your faith is real and there is a God who deserves all the glory. More importantly for us, Peter says, “Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11) The key to finishing this faith we have started is nothing more exciting than perseverance. Keep walking toward the Light, dear friends, wherever you are on this faith-journey.

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And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-2

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The greatest act of courage is to simply keep facing one direction when everything in you wants to turn and run.

Ann VosKamp

Fearless

As we trace Peter’s thoughts through paragraph after paragraph, themes emerge– the main points he wants these early believers to latch onto and remember. One particular bright thread weaves through the black and white words, connecting each section in unexpected patterns of color: The way to walk as children of light, mindful of their glorious inheritance is to live without fear. Pretty idealistic considering that at this point in history they are a handful of Christ-followers in a suspicious world, an odd ragtag minority, carrying around strange ideas about some carpenter-turned-king the Empire had already disposed of and left for dead. But Peter says don’t be afraid to live as strangers swimming against the current of culture.

He says go ahead and live well in the face of men who slander and accuse you, as a walking talking testimony to the transforming power of the gospel, because you know that God will sort it all out when He comes. Submit to human authorities and governments, even though they be unjust and fail in their responsibilities, because you can trust the God who has authority over all men. Serve those who employ you willingly and with respect, whether or not they deserve it, because you have been called to follow in the humility and patience of Christ. Live out your faith in the home as a peaceful and beautiful example of God’s redemptive power, even though those closest to you have the most power to hurt and betray you. Peter says you can do all these things without fear, because you can trust the God who “caused [you] to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) to guard your heart.

Someone reminded me this week that the root of all our striving and stress is fear for the future: fear that we will lose good things…that pain will come…that we will not be enough, have enough, know enough to succeed and get what we desire. Our first impulse is always to protect ourselves, from the dangers that threaten and uncertainties we cannot control. And Peter says just lay it all down, because you do not have to be that person anymore. “Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-15)


We cannot live as children of light as long as we are holding onto fear…and the only remedy for fear is trust. Peter lays the precious foundation of Christ, given for us before the beginning of the world, says if we plant our feet firmly in His love we can handle any troubles this world can throw at us with joy, “and anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced.” (1 Peter 2:6) Fellow-disciple John echoes the thought and declares confidently that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) These men have watched Jesus lay down His innocence as a sacrifice for us over the course of three terrifying days– they witnessed the greatest act of perfect love this world will ever experience, and they have been transformed. John says knowing Christ makes all the difference in the way they live: “We saw Him with our own eyes and touched Him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen Him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that He is the one who is eternal life.” (1 John 1:1-2)

The world is still a scary place. And the Enemy of my soul’s health is an accomplished spear-thrower, knows just where all my wounds and weaknesses are, and fear is a powerful weapon in his hand. But Peter’s counsel echoes in my head: “So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control…” (1 Peter 1:13) Every day I get to choose to respond to circumstances either with fear or with trust. And I can see the logical disconnect of claiming the Most High God as my Father in Heaven and still allowing insecurity and fear to shape my days. Every threatening uncertainty that rises up need only drive me into God’s presence and power, where I can sing with the Musician-King, “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:2)

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All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by His power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see

1 Peter 1:3-5

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Whatever you agree with you give power to in your life. If you agree with the truth, the truth will set you free. If you agree with lies, lies will enslave you. In order to change the way you live, you have to change the way you think.

Rob Reimer (Soul Care)

Even So

Sometimes giving up is as much an act of faith as asking in the first place. If I stop asking, hoping, watching for You to move, it would be as huge a mile-marker as any. Opening my hand and letting earnest expectation slip through my fingers. Prying my fingers loose from the beliefs and promises I’ve been holding onto. Not because they are not true, but because I am no longer sure about Your will. I believe You are good and faithful and full of mercy to those who call to You…everything You say You are… but there are days I feel to the depths of my soul how very Other You are. And I hear the Prophet Isaiah giving voice to Your words: ” ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’ ” (Isaiah 55:8-9) Maybe sometimes even my prayers of faith are drawing lines that limit what You want to do in my world. Maybe there is a faith that just trusts who You are, without understanding the Why.

After all, why should I expect to understand what God has in mind, or think that it would make sense to me? Everything He does is outside the realm of human sensibilities. The Almighty defines love with the bloody death of His Son… greatness as washing the dirty feet of fishermen… joy as facing trials that grow faith stronger. So it is quite possible that God’s goodness and grace to me will look vastly different than I would think, and sometimes I need to have the faith to stop praying for results, stop hoping for the deliverance I long for, and just sit here in silence, say Your will be done, Lord.

Maybe this is the kind of faith Daniel’s friends had when they declared that God could deliver them from the flames, but even if He did not, they would still worship. This sounds like the faith of the prophets who witnessed the destruction of their people and said that although the land should fail beneath them, still they would rejoice in the God who saves. This is a faith that whispers: whatever Your answer looks like, even so, it is well with my soul. Whether the healing comes, or the circumstances change, or I ever understand what you are doing in the world…even so, You are with me and I am not forsaken. Even so, You are worthy of praise and honor. Even so, I believe.

Peter is talking again about living like strangers in this world, which frankly sounds completely unappealing, and kind of lonely. But I understand what he is saying: don’t settle here, don’t invest for the long-term, don’t collect stuff and waste your time on trivialities, because you aren’t going to be here that long anyway, in light of eternity. He wants us to know who we are forever, in Christ, and let that perception change the way we live in the everyday. He keeps it simple and uncomplicated: “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:14) So how does it shape your prayers when you take your eyes off the earth right in front of you? How does an heir of the riches of heaven open his hands in generosity? How does a child of God who has been loved and known since before the foundation of the world serve other people? What does it look like to share in the sufferings of Christ? To wear His holiness? Life looks different from this vantage-point, and maybe Daniel’s friends understood the exact same thing Peter and Paul were writing about, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) The faith that sets its eyes on the unseen things can say Even so, it is well with my soul, no matter what comes.

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“Though you have not seen Him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

1 Peter 1:8-9

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“…we trust all that the love of God does; all He gives, and all He does not give; all He says, and all He does not say. To it all we say, by His loving enabling, I trust. Let us be content with the Lord’s will, and tell Him so. The more we understand His love, the more we trust.”

Amy Carmichael

Of Slow Starters and Surefire Winners

I think most of us find that it is difficult to be patient with process, whether we are talking about learning a new skill, remodeling a home, or getting back in shape. Wanting the good results is the easy part, but it’s that one step forward and two back that really tests your resolve to persevere. The number of abandoned projects and piles of new equipment gathering dust out there attest to that fact. Peter the Disciple was a live-in-the-moment kind of guy, knew what it was like to be wired that way– big on excitement and not so much on follow-through. So it is remarkable to read his letters to the Christ-followers living in the outer reaches of the Roman Empire and see his big-picture viewpoint, hear him urging them to keep their eyes fastened on who they are and where they are headed.

Maybe that was his secret, that at some point he did learn to stop looking at the waves,and start looking at his Savior’s hand outstretched instead. When you take your eyes off the immediate circumstances and the swell of emotions that crash all around, start focusing on the One who is walking with you, your perspective enlarges dramatically. You can say things like, “There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.” (1 Peter 1:6)  The grief of this world is still very present and real, but so is the “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:4-5) As a Christ-follower, the saving grace in life is that you are not trying to get it done in your own strength and self-discipline. Literally. Our life in Christ is wrapped up in His saving grace from beginning to end. And when you grow weary of one more day, and discouraged about your progress, you can rest in that grace that carries you, look forward to the glorious future He purchased, and not give up. Peter was very aware of his own weaknesses– that’s why in his letter he emphasizes how salvation belongs to God and is not dependent on our efforts. It was the Father’s grand plan from the very Beginning, accomplished through the death and resurrection of the Son and the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the hearts of those who believe. It is vitally important to Peter that he lay this out clearly because only on this firm and unchanging foundation can his faith and ours rest secure.

Peter goes so far as to say that persevering in the everyday process is what proves a person’s faith is real. He knew from experience how emotions are not trustworthy guides for a walk of faith. High on the excitement of a miracle or caught up in the passion of a big event, it was easy for him to claim large faith, or propose action. But the same emotion that swells has its counterbalancing downswing, and he also knew the pendulum-swing of failure and rebuke and shame. The emotions will never be enough to make you strong, carry you through; what really matters most is the foundation you are acting on when the fireworks of emotion die down– what you do next.


So Peter can write to these believers (with the authority of one who has learned the hard way) that real faith hangs onto the eternal things that are True, no matter what: “You love Him even though you have never seen Him. Though you do not see Him now, you trust Him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting Him will be the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9) When you know the Most High has gone to such lengths to claim you as His “…special possession….has called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9), you can rest assured that perseverance in living out your faith will result in the happy ending that God intends for you.

And to all of us, I hear Peter saying: be patient with the process. Learn to see God at work in it. Wrestle with what it means to “live as God’s obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14) and practice living out His holiness in everyday things. Don’t be too quick to look for escapes and quick fixes. Listen more to His Word and His Spirit instead of your emotions. Long for growth, soak up every bit of nourishment you can get, so that you will grow strong and healthy inside. And be patient with what He is working out in you, for “when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7) God did it for Peter, and He can do it for you. .

I heard a wise teacher say once that our transformation, our healing, our growth will take one day longer than we live in these bodies. Hang in there, then, and be patient, because ” In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3-4) This is worth waiting for.

“So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world….For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.”

1 Peter 1:13, 23


“Most of our healings will be experienced through the relatively slow processes with which God wonderfully and wisely equips our bodies. And most of our deliverances will be experienced through the relatively slow (at times frustratingly so) processes with which God wonderfully and wisely equips our minds and souls — replacing habitual responses of belief in deceptive promises and condemning accusations with habitual responses of faith in the true promises and gracious acceptance of God.”


Jon Bloom


Out of the Darkness and into the Light

Lately I keep circling back around to this one big question: What does it mean to live as children of light, in this dark world? And it seems like the central question all of us Christ-followers should be asking, in simple everyday ways. How does a mother shine Light on the third toddler-tantrum of the day, when she is running on not-enough sleep? How does a hurting heart step into Light, bring God’s truth to bear on those wounds and find healing and forgiveness? How does Light clear out the dark corners of my heart where selfishness and anger tend to settle in? What does a Child of Light look like in an office cubicle?…In a marriage?…In differences of perspective and opinion?

You wouldn’t expect a fisherman-turned-preacher like Peter to have very profound ideas on the subject, but it turns out that he was used to asking that question, ever since he got it profoundly wrong one terrible night. Once you let your fears swing the door wide open to betrayal and anger and lies, and the darkness almost swallows you whole, you realize how powerful those small choices can be– how quickly you can find yourself lost on the wrong path. Maybe there’s a sense in which you can’t really learn to consistently walk in the light until you have looked hard into the face of your own darkness. Peter learned the hard way too, how walking in the light might look more difficult in the moment, but it is actually the most freeing thing you will ever do. So he faced his fear and his failure and found forgiveness over breakfast on the beach with Jesus, and began teaching others what he was learning: that the closer you are to Jesus, the more everything makes sense in His Light.

So Peter can say with the authority of someone who has leaned into the subject that the way to walk as a child of the light is to focus on all that God has done for you– stand on that foundation of salvation and rejoice in it, let it make you strong. And it is more than just looking forward to a happy ending someday. It’s embracing your new identity as His child, and allowing that to rewrite your story in the present. As Peter writes to the believers under siege, “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3)

We may be waiting for that rich inheritance to come, but Peter says our hope is alive in Jesus, and we live in Him. We are already living in eternity, in the presence of the Spirit of God, with abundant resources for each day. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) This is why we can trust Him, why we do what He tells us, how we can keep on walking through the hard things and the grief that overwhelms, because the Almighty King of Heaven walks with us as a Friend and we “…are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8) Every experience Peter had as one of Jesus’ disciples was a lesson learned, another mile on his faith-journey. Both the good and the bad were growing him into the person God always intended him to be: someone who could walk in the Light and lead others in knowing God. When you understand the depths of your salvation and what the Savior is doing in your life, it changes the way you handle everything, including the hard times.

What does it mean to walk as children of light? Peter would probably rephrase the question for us: How would you act if you knew you were deeply loved, known, set aside for God’s purposes? Hmm…I’m guessing you would act a lot more like Jesus did.

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In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.


(1 Peter 1:6-7)

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Thank You for the wilderness
Where I learned to thirst for Your presence
If I’d never known that place
How could I have known You are better?
Thank You for the lonely times
When I learned to live in the silence
As the other voices fade
I can hear You calling me, Jesus
And it’s worth it all just to know You more

Great Things, Elevation Worship

Grace is the One Word You Need Most

I look around this small group as they talk about how life turned out differently than they thought it would, this past year, see the unspoken sorrows and unexpected joy in the paths they have walked. And we try to put into One Word our goal for the New Year, knowing full well that we do not know what lies ahead, only that the One who goes with us has already provided what we need. It is His promise to us, from the pen of the Church-planter Paul: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

This we can trust, that no matter what word we choose, our loving Father will be working in it and through it, both for our benefit and for His glory. This is His bountiful Grace, to walk amid our days and soften the sharp edges, lift up the weary head, light up the dark places. Grace is the biggest and best word He will give to meet us when we offer up this year to Him. That One Word became flesh and blood in the person of Christ Jesus, so that we could see for ourselves what Grace looked like in this everyday world. Nothing will take Him by surprise in this year, and nothing will take Him from our sides. So we will be okay, whatever comes. Because the Good Shepherd calls us by name and leads us on.

May we only be faithful to follow.

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“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

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“You don’t need to be perfect; you need to simply feel His perfect love. You don’t need to be in control; you need to simply be in Christ. You don’t need to be more because He is all you need.”
(Ann VosKamp)

A Starting Place

To all those who are beginning the New Year hesitantly, already feeling a bit like the walking-wounded and wondering if you have the strength or courage for what may come– Jesus speaks blessing over you. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5) Because you of all people know that this world cannot satisfy your heart. You are already looking for a Light on the horizon, hungry for more than the way things are. And Jesus says you are on the right path, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) You are learning the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, that the real treasures are things you can only see with the eyes of faith.

So bring your tears, and your fears, and all your questions, here at the start of a New Year. Hold them out to Jesus with both hands and let Him take them, so that your hands are empty and outstretched….ready for something new. A friend reminded me the other day that a person isn’t really ready to change unless he is a little bit desperate. It’s true, you know, that until our longing for something better outweighs our fear of letting go, our hands remain clenched on what we treasure– and I know a good many people who are hauling around buckets of dirt as if they were gold. So just give them up, here on the first page of the calendar; empty your hands and join the ranks of the humble, the heart-hungry, the longing…all those who can find true riches. They are singing the song of the Musician-King: “Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise you as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods….On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night.” (Psalm 63:3-6)

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“Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)

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“Oh Love that will not let me go,
My soul will rest in You alone.
I give you back this life I owe,
To know you Jesus more and more.”
(I Love You, Lord, Elevation Worship)

Christmas in the Desert

The season of Advent is good news for anyone looking for change: to all the weary, the grieving, the neglected, the broken of the world, God speaks through the prophet “Comfort, comfort My people…” (Isaiah 40:1), and Jesus echoes “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted….Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:3-6) It is the needy who are looking for something good– not the ones who are already satisfied– and God promises that good will come to them if they are looking in the right places. The very word Advent means arrival; the answer to all God’s promises is coming at last in the birth of the Christ Child. Isn’t it obvious how the whole hungry world waits in anticipation? “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

The Christmas Story begins in the wilderness, like all the best stories do. Everyone loves tales of the downtrodden overcoming obstacles, and good triumphing over evil, and the heroes that bring happy endings. When we enter Advent, and begin to prepare our hearts for the birth of the Savior, it is the prophets in the desert places that we hear first: “A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.. the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” (Isaiah 40:3,5) It isn’t until you are in the dark that you long for a ray of light to break through– not till you find yourself in the wilderness that you search for the way to go. And the prophet Isaiah is proclaiming the joyful news: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light….” (Isaiah 9:2)

In the darkest of times, over hundreds of years, when people had forgotten what mattered most, the prophets pointed to the coming Messiah: “You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout…say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!'” (Isaiah 40:9) This is the good news, that God Himself is coming to us, and He will bring healing and renewal. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert…” (Isaiah 35:5-6) The prophet almost sings for the wonder of it, that all those dry and difficult places will be nothing more than opportunities to reveal God’s glory and power in our lives. Of course, one could say that this story actually started in the Garden in the Beginning, a seed planted by the Creator, and that would be true as well. One of Jesus’ followers verified that this was God’s intention all along: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind….and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1,4-5)

In the lights and glitter and busy-ness of the holidays you are liable to feel out of place if you are grieving, if you are desperately waiting for answers, if your life is in turmoil for whatever reason. But God is whispering comfort and hope to His people. Here in the beginning of Advent it is okay to be in a wilderness place. I can wait patiently for God’s answers and anticipate His power at work in my life. I can prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth– His arrival– with joy, because I already know how this story ends. The wilderness is just waiting to be transformed in His hands. Jesus has proven Isaiah’s words to be completely true: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners….” (Isaiah 61:1) Blessed are the ones who need Him the most, for He has come to be our Savior.

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“And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11)

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“When we are willing to watch and wait in the darkness until the Light comes — we practice being willing to sit with brokenness until resurrection comes.” (Ann VosKamp)